If you traded in a 1996 model for a new car in 2006, chances are it wouldn’t feel that different. If you traded in your ’06 for something new today, you’d be in for a shock. Advances in safety, technology, and power mean cars today are evolving faster than ever before, to the point where an automotive utopia seems within reach. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a complete lemon. Build quality is likely better than ever before across the board, and we’re even reaching the point when our cars can do most of the driving.
That said, it’s conventional wisdom that most car shoppers like things they’re already familiar with, so while there’s been a revolution under your car’s skin, it’s likely that its style has evolved a lot more gracefully on the outside. Today’s Toyota Corolla doesn’t look all that radically different from the last one. Neither does the Chevy Corvette, Honda Odyssey, or Ford F-150, despite its aluminum-intensive diet.
But there are a growing number of models that are embracing this technological boom and look like they’re pure science fiction. As is often the case, many are found on the upper end of the price and performance spectrum, but there are still a few affordable models that can make the everyman channel his inner Walter Mitty too. Here are eight of our favorite futuristic cars that have landed on our planet recently.
1. Tesla Model X
Yes, we know that there isn’t much of a market for an $81K-and-up minivan with Falcon Wing doors, and that the Model X has had more than its fair share of quality control issues. But if you told us 10 years ago that we’d have an all-electric, 532 horsepower people mover that could go over 250 miles on a charge, and silently whisk you and six of your closest friends from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds, we’d say you were crazy. Plus, Falcon Wing doors. What a time to be alive.
2. BMW i8
The i8 has been with us for two years now, and it still looks like something out of the near future. Its mid-mounted 0.9-liter turbocharged inline-three is mated to an electric motor for 320 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. It’ll rocket you from zero to 60 in just 4.2 seconds, but for most people, they won’t be able to get over its spaceship styling and all that exposed carbon fiber.
3. Citroën C4 Cactus
It may not be available in the U.S. (not yet, at least), but Citroën’s Cactus is proof that you can still make an avant-garde entry-level car. The French automaker is no stranger to bringing futuristic design to the masses, but the compact Cactus (it’s about the size of a Nissan Juke) is the most out-there the company’s gotten in years. Affordable crossover or not, this is at the top of our driving bucket list based on looks alone.
4. McLaren 570GT
McLaren began applying its racing expertise to road cars about 25 years ago, and despite competing with Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, and other supercars, it’s always seemed to operate on a higher plane. Maybe it’s because there’s so much race tech in its cars, or maybe it’s because they’re rarer than the competition, but we can’t help but think that its designs will look as good in 20 years as they do today. We aren’t sure the same can be said about some of its rivals.
5. 2017 Toyota Prius Prime
In a move that was completely out of character, Toyota let its freak flag fly with the 2016 Toyota Prius redesign. For 2017, it’s launching the plug-in Prius Prime, and going even further out there. With an origami-like design similar to the hydrogen-powered Mirai, the Prime’s most notable design flourish is concave rear glass with a shape that cascades across the decklid, a detail said to aid aerodynamics. The result is a car that looks about as futuristic as the BMW i8, for about one-quarter of the price.
6. Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf
Here’s another one we aren’t likely to see Stateside (though a deep-pocketed client may change that). Aston Martin’s million-dollar, hand-built Taraf sedan’s aggressive lines and bespoke interior aren’t likely to be mistaken for anything else on the planet anytime soon. Vaguely recalling the ’76-’90 Aston Martin Lagonda — itself a car that looked ahead of its time — the Taraf is the ultra-luxury car for someone who thinks the Rolls-Royce Phantom is too common. We’ve got a feeling that it’ll still look current in 10 years.
7. Audi R8
It’s hard to believe that the R8 has already been with us for 10 years, and other than getting some serious power and tech upgrades, there hasn’t been much Audi’s needed to do to make its supercar still look like it’s from the near future. It’s been refreshed for 2017 (above), but it hasn’t strayed far from the original car’s design. Hell, if it still looks like this in 2026, we probably won’t complain.
8. Acura NSX
Acura’s second-generation supercar has been a long time coming (about eight years, to be more specific), but it’s already proven to be worth the wait. Underneath its futuristic body lies an advanced trio of electric motors mated to a mid-mounted V6, giving the NSX 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque. Time will tell if it can live up to its legendary predecessor, but from here, it looks like it came from five years in the future.